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Front Page » October 26, 2006 » Local News » Helper city proceeds with museum project
Published 3,274 days ago

Helper city proceeds with museum project

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Sun Advocate reporter

SueAnn Martell presents the floor plan for an expansion to the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper. After being delayed for more than a year, the museum board has secured additional funds and hopes to start work on phase one of the museum expansion in early spring 2007.

After being delayed more than a year, a proposed expansion to the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper is in sight.

Museum staff and project designers presented a plan to the Helper City Council on Oct. 19 and stated that work on the museum expansion could begin as early as March.

In 2005, after opening bids on the project, the city council discovered that project costs had been underestimated by a significant margin.

At that time, the expansion was put on hold and the museum board was instructed to pursue more funding or find ways to reduce costs.

SueAnn Martell reported to the council last week that the museum board has done both.

In order to reduce costs, the museum board suggested altering the scope of the expansion.

At the same time, the board has been able to secure more than $300,000 in new funds, all of which are in the form of grants.

Initially, the expansion started as an effort to make the museum more accessible to those in wheelchairs.

The three-story building has no elevator. As a result, many of the museum's exhibits are not accessible to people in wheelchairs or others who may have difficulty climbing stairs.

The museum also has a single bathroom, which is not in compliance with guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In order to correct the issues, plans were made to add an elevator, accessible bathrooms and additional office space at the museum.

Once the expansion idea was on the table, the division of state history and the Utah Historical Society designated the museum as a repository for historical archives generated in the Carbon County region.

With that expansion included, planners added additional exhibit space.

Martell reported that the museum board recommends pursuing the museum expansion with a change in scope for the first phase of construction.

Rather than completing the entire facility, the board recommended constructing the shell of the building and finishing the installation of the elevator, bathrooms and archive facility.

If the city pursues the board's recommendation, other portions of the expansion will be framed and roughly completed, but will require additional work before they are usable.

By delaying portions of the expansion, the city can cut the cost of the project by as much as one-fourth.

P.J. Jensen, the project designer for the expansion, said the total cost of expansion is more than $1.2 million.

The first stage of the project is estimated at $863,000.

And since the project was put on hold in 2005, museum staff has been able to pursue additional funds, now totaling nearly $800,000, said Martell.

The two largest portions of that amount are the initial $242,000 the city received from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Board and $225,000 appropriated by the 2006 annual transportation spending bill, primarily due to the backing of Rep. Jim Matheson.

"Matheson has been in constant contact with me," said Martell.

She explained that that since contacting his office for the transportation appropriation, the congressman has provided other resources to the museum in order to secure additional funds.

An additional $118,000 was awarded by the Utah Department of Transportation as mitigation funds when the state destroyed a historical farm in order to expand U.S. Highway 6 in Helper.

Because of the museum's location near the junction of multiple scenic byways, $100,000 was awarded by the National Scenic Byways Administration.

Another $70,000 has also been promised from Carbon County restaurant taxes.

The board is waiting to hear back on a couple of other revenue sources - in particular, a $250,000 grant with backing from Sen. Orrin Hatch's office and $300,000 in other federal transportation funding.

The recommendation from the board at this time is to redraw and review the plans.

Martell explained that an assessment of the museum provided some minor suggestions, which she would like to see incorporated into the new plans.

Jensen suggested that a workable time line would be to complete plans this winter and have the project ready to bid by February 2007.

If the city had the bidding process completed at the beginning of March, work could begin in mid-March.

The scaled back project will lack some of it's functionality.

However, Martell explained after the meeting that it will be some time before the museum is ready to use the new exhibit areas.

In the meantime, the museum can benefit from the expansion, and the most expensive portions of the building can be completed before costs escalate too much further.

Martell also explained that the previous plans, with an estimated cost of $15,000, have been useful in applying for new grants.

Of the close to $800,000 raised for the museum project, approximately $40,000 has already been spent on upgrades to the existing structure which are necessary for the expansion.

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